PRINCE GEORGE – About 70 young workers attended the CUPE BC Young Workers Task Force conference “Building a Better Future” held here August 19 – 21.
CUPE BC General Vice-President and Young Workers Task Force chair John Hall and co-chair Carlo Sia, hosting the opening event, introduced the head table and guests from CUPE locals and other unions and affiliations as well as elected officials including Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, Councillor Jillian Merrick, and School District #57 Trustee Bob Harris.
Elder Edie Frederick from the Lheidli T'enneh nation extended a warm welcome, telling delegates that we are entering a new era of change in which partnerships will be the norm.
“We need to keep a legacy for our children,” said Elder Frederick.
CUPE BC Secretary-Treasurer Paul Faoro thanked delegates for attending. “You’re here to make our union stronger,” said Faoro, who spoke about the importance of relationships and recalled how he became an activist in his local. His “magic moment” was when he had to file a grievance to get his first full-time job with the City of Vancouver. “It felt so good to file a grievance and know I had someone who had my back. And the union got me the job.”
Faoro said that the impact of retirements on CUPE is significant, given the years of experience that departing workers represent. “This conference is also about building capacity, about leadership. To see if you’re interested in stepping up to help the labour movement fulfill a role. We need people like you,” he said.
Faoro also spoke about the upcoming federal election and encouraged delegates to get involved. “There’s too much at stake,” he said. “Young voters today are more educated and have more access to information. We can make positive change that we believe in.”
Keynote speaker Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA from Vancouver-West End who serves as Opposition Spokesperson for the Environment, told the receptive crowd that they have a role in changing the world.
“We need to be able to stand as leaders. My message has always been that we are leaders of today,” said Chandra Herbert. “We need to get the future we want by building it ourselves.”
The NDP MLA talked about the incredible opportunity of the “silver tsunami”, happening in B.C. He said that by 2030, one in six people will be over the age of 70. Addressing the role of young workers in changing the world, he said that leadership jobs and ways to steer the ship are coming up.
“We have incredible resource wealth and incredible resource in our brains,” said Chandra Herbert, noting that the people in the room were there because they wanted to be: they want the world to be a better place.
“We’re all here together for the future. I’m so excited about what we’re going to do in October when we send Stephen Harper packing.
“Let’s make a difference. Let’s make a change,” said Chandra Herbert.
Delegates had questions and comments about water rights, getting involved in the NDP, the election win in Alberta, fairness and affordability, pensions, BC Liberal defunding of adult basic education, moving from the union label of “Brother and Sister” to non-gender specific language, cuts to education, and taking young people seriously.
Delegates and guests enjoyed a reception that wrapped up the evening.
The conference workshops were Introduction to CUPE/Know your Union, Young Leaders, Political Action, Taking on Privatization, and Introduction to Health and Safety. Facilitators were Aman Cheema, Trevor Davies, David Fleming, Tania Jarzebiak, Shevonne Leslie, Tina Meadows, Carol Reardon, Justin Schmid, Carlo Sia, Kathryn Sutton, and Aaron Young.
Following workshop sessions on Thursday, delegates loaded into two city buses for a barbecue at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park, organized by CUPE 1048 President Janet Bigelow. Elder Edie Frederick welcomed everyone to the park and spoke about the traditional territory and the history of the park, which was a burial ground for Lheidli T'enneh First Nations.
Despite the darkening sky and rain, delegates were riveted by guest speaker Aaron Ekman, BC Federation of Labour secretary treasurer and a Prince George resident. Ekman told young workers that that “we are waging a war for workers' rights, a continuation of a war that our parents and grandparents and those that came before them waged.”
He talked about political challenges we face and the need for change. He said revenue must go to people who need services, rather than going out of the country.
"One of the biggest things we have to face is the concept of income inequality," said Ekman.
Ekman talked about our role in organizational politics. He said that unions at large should play a role.
“We as working people absolutely have a right to participate in the process,” said Ekman. “It’s incumbent on us, we have a responsibility to elect folks more like us.”
The conference ended Friday afternoon. Delegates attended workshops in the morning and came together for lunch and closing discussion.
Faoro reminding delegates that time is running out before October 19, spoke of the importance of focusing on the upcoming election.
“We have shared values with the NDP on childcare, retirement security, health care, and better jobs,” he said. Faoro pointed out that Harper won his majority with only 6,201 votes across the country while some 9.4 million Canadians who were eligible to vote did not. And for those who may not be registered to vote, he demonstrated the online procedure on the Elections Canada website: www.elections.ca. Faoro drew warm laughter from the delegates when he realized that the information on the screen, including age, was his own.
In a poignant moment, Faoro shared the late Jack Layton’s words to young Canadians by reading from the departed NDP leader’s words to young Canadians. “There are great challenges before you…I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice is exactly what this country needs today.”
Click here for photos of the CUPE BC Young Workers Task Force conference.